The Eau Claire Express have reached the end of the First Half of the season, owning a 20-14 record. This part of the 2023 season has already been one for the books, as team history has been made several times.
On June 3rd, in a matchup vs. the Minnesota Mud Puppies, managers Dale Varsho and Vic Cable reached career win number 600. The pair of coaches, having worked together since the team’s inception in 2005, were already the winningest managerial pair in the Northwoods League to this point. Win number 600 was yet another milestone set by the two in their 18 years with the team.
Just one day after Varsho and Cable’s 600th win, the team saw history being made again. This time it came when Rayth Petersen became the first Express player to ever hit for the cycle. After already snagging a single, double, and homerun, all that was left for the utility player was a triple. In the bottom of the 8th inning, he hit a strong line drive to the right-center wall. As two Waterloo bucks charged after the ball on the warning track, Petersen rounded 2nd and headed towards third. The ball was collected and fired to 3rd, but not before Petersen reached safely, sliding headfirst into the base.
The Express have enjoyed success at Carson Park, owning a home record of 11-5. They have played every other team in the Great Plains East Division, and several teams from the Great Plains West. Their records against each team are as follows:
LAC: 1-3 The La Crosse Loggers were Eau Claire’s opponent on opening day, and they have provided tough competition for the Express. Their 1-3 record reflects this, with their only win against the La Crosse squad coming on June 21st in the early game of a doubleheader vs. the team.
WIL: 1-1 Wilmar has put together a good team, but the Express were up to the challenge when they faced the Stingers early in the season. They split their short two-game series, with both contests being held on the road at Wilmar. Since the team’s matchup, the Stingers have gone on to maintain a 26-8 record, which is the best in the Northwoods League.
MIN: 2-0 The Minnesota Mud Puppies, a team who only plays on the road, was unfortunate enough to find themselves on the losing end of a 2-game series vs. Eau Claire. The Express made quick work of the Mud Puppies back in early June and set records along the way. Most notably, the June 3rd win over Minnesota gave manager Dale Varsho his 600th career win.
WAT: 1-1 Waterloo found a way to split their only first-half two-game series with the Express. In their first matchup, Eau Claire blanked the Bucks, with a final score of 16-0. This was also the game in which Rayth Petersen hit for the cycle. The following day’s game, however, saw a determined Waterloo team fight their way back into contention as they beat Eau Claire by just one run.
BIS: 1-1 In the second week of June, the Men in Orange embarked on a 6-game road trip out west to North Dakota. Bismarck was their first stop, where they split the 2-game series with the Larks. The second matchup of the series also saw the team set a season-high for homers in a game as Ryan Nagelbach, Reed Latimer, and Rayth Petersen all went yard.
MOT: 2-2 After Bismarck came Minot, where again the team split the series. The Hot Tots’ pitching was too much to handle for the Express in the middle two games, as the Express scored 1 or fewer runs in each of these two matchups. They bookended their trip to Minot with wins though, scoring 14 and 11 runs respectively.
DUL: 6-0 The Express have had much success vs. the Huskies this season, with many of their 6 wins coming in close, hard-fought games. In the 3 series against Duluth, Eau Claire has looked sharp and gritty, with 4 of their 6 matchups being won by just 1 run. This includes a 10-9 victory over the Huskies in a game that was delayed 2 hours due to heavy rains. In the 3rd inning, before the game was put on hold, the Express faced a 7-0 deficit. As the game resumed later on, though, they kept putting runs on the board en route to their come-from-behind victory.
TB: 2-4 Thunder Bay has been a tough matchup for the Express in the first half of the season. The Border Cats have done well at home and struggled on the road. Unfortunately for the Express this season, 4 out of their 6 games have been in Thunder Bay. This has left them with a 2-4 record vs. the Border Cats.
ROC: 4-2 The Express have done equally well at home and on the road vs. the Honkers this season. They own a 2-1 home record and a 2-1 road record vs. the Rochester club. Perhaps one of their most important games of the first half came this past July 3rd, when the Express faced a “win-and-in” matchup in Rochester. The game wasn’t too close for too long though, as Eau Claire quickly jumped out to the lead, and went on to win 12-1 at Mayo Field. This victory put them in 1st place, and secured their spot in the postseason.
After leading the Great Plains East Division in the first half of the season, the Eau Claire Express have earned a playoff berth. This will be the Express’ 8th trip to the playoffs since 2005. This is also the first time since the 2016 season that the Express have led their division in the first half. Their last division title came when they were in the North Division and owned a 25-11 record.
With the second half of the season starting up, these next few weeks of baseball are going to be crucial for postseason seeding. Be sure to continue to come out to the park, and keep up to date with the team on the road. Listen to the games on 106.7 FM – Moose Country, or watch the team in action by checking out the Northwoods League website for live streams of all Express games.
The Eau Claire Express are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The Northwoods League is the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players. Now in its’ 30th season, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 24 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires, and front office staff, over 325 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including three-time All-Star and 2016 Roberto Clemente Award winner Curtis Granderson, three-time Cy Young Award winner and World Series Champion Max Scherzer (NYM), two-time World Series Champions Ben Zobrist and Brandon Crawford (SFG) and World Series Champion Chris Sale (BOS). As well as 2019 Rookie of the Year and 2019/2021 Home Run Derby Champion Pete Alonso (NYM) and 2021 All-Star, MLB Gold Glove winner and 2019 Second Team All-MLB shortstop Marcus Semien (TEX). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. League games are viewable live at watchnwl.com and on ESPN+. For more information, visit www.eauclaireexpress.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play and set the Express as your favorite team.